Use these words in a paragraph

I remember this exercise from grade school. We were given a list of terms, and told to use them in a paragraph. Not define them, but use them.

If I’d done the reading, this could go several ways. If I’d understood the overall point of what I had read, the first sentence of the paragraph was easy, and then I could assemble the terms, sort of, even if I didn’t know what they all meant. It was like a deductive method. If I knew what they all meant but not how they went together, I could still write something, and if the sentences followed each other logically, I was good. Let’s call this the inductive method.

If I hadn’t done the reading, of course, I was f***ed.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I had a hole in my syllabus when I dropped my History of England textbook. Well, textbook is a bit of a misnomer. It was a brilliant atlas, deeply loved (by me, anyway) but hard to obtain. With the book gone, what remains are only my lectures and the primary sources for readings. Of course, that’s quite a bit. My lectures are fairly complete. More importantly, the sources are items like Magna Carta and More’s Utopia. I want them understood, so I’ve put them in Perusall for annotation. But group annotations are a bit deceptive — it’s entirely possible for the individual student to have misunderstood an entire document.

So since I have no intention of writing multiple-choice quizzes (ick), I instead have created Document Paragraphs. The instructions say:

While I haven’t actually said “use these terms in a paragraph”, that’s what they do. And I can very quickly tell what they understood and what they didn’t. It also helps align the Persuall annotations (which I call Read and Discuss) with something they must produce. It scores an automatic 2 points, but for the first several weeks I’m very careful about giving them feedback to improve, if needed.

So just a note to thank all those teachers I had for “use these terms in a paragraph”.

 

 

Honor in defeat

In all my years of online teaching (and it’s over 20, mind) I have never had a worse start to the semester. My inbox is receiving student messages at the rate of about 3 per hour, and has done the entire first week. These messages are, as I’ve mentioned before, mostly related to not being able to find things. Many indicate that they haven’t read my announcements, so all have required individual responses.

This is heart-breaking for me, and not because of the time suck. My navigation in my courses has always been my pride. Students frequently mention on evaluations the ease of getting around the course, the knowledge of knowing what is due and when, the way the class hangs together. One Canvas feature, the To-Do list on the app, has put an end to all of that.

When the LMS undermines the integrity of my courses, it puts me in a bind. The disaggregation of content creates larger problems, as I’ve noted. I am being defeated by Canvas. The question is whether I can snatch honor from defeat.

The solutions I articulated last time, the new rules, are proving to be difficult to implement in Canvas.

For example, it is clear that proximity of content to task is crucial when students engage class material through disparate tasks. Reading must be together with a quiz or writing on that reading. Self-reported items must have the self-reported task alongside the submission. So what’s the problem?

The To-Do Lists

Canvas makes this much more difficult than it has to be, because the To-Do list itself is a fickle beast. Over the last 48 hours, I have learned a lot about it. There are, it turns out, several To-Do lists. One appears when you open the Home page of the course itself (let’s call this List A):

It includes Calendar events, so it would tell students everything they need. Unfortunately, it is useless, since the problem is that students no longer go to the course Home page in the first place.

Another To-Do list is on the new, improved Student Dashboard (List B). For some reason, it prefaces everything with the words, “Turn in”:

This is on the right side of what is basically a home page for the entire Canvas system for the college, and the Canvas folks don’t seem to understand that students don’t go there either. One reason is that it’s utterly cluttered with college announcements. It also does not include Calendar events.

Here is what students see in the tool they’ve suddenly started to use now that all their MiraCosta classes are in Canvas, the aggregated To-Do list on their phone in the app (List C). It also uses “Turn in”:

No Calendar events, no ungraded assignments. Here are the other things they can see on their phone:

The Inbox (Messages) Notifications (the default is Announcements and Message) Events (which shows only those manually added to the calendar) Dashboard with tiles

My student account is set as a student in five of my classes, so imagine all these from different classes, in different colors.

As far as I can tell, almost all of the students now only use the To-Do list in the app, List C. The questions I’ve received indicate that few use the Notifications, which is where all my Announcements would appear. These don’t appear on the To-Do list, implying that reading them is not something one needs To Do.

The Attempt to Solve This

Since they cannot see either the week’s readings or my lectures in the To-Do list, surely the trick was to get these to appear.

Option 1: Add everything to the Calendar as an event on a date

This would be easiest, but it didn’t work, because the app To-Do list does not show Calendar events.

Option 2: Make a page for each reading and lecture and check the box “Add to student to-do list”

I thought I could make a page for each reading and each lecture, then click the “Add to student to-do list” box, and they would be visible!

But it turns out this is not the case. Things added using the “Add to student to-do list” box only appear on the Course home page list (List A) or the Student Dashboard (List B), not the app To-Do list.

Option 3: Make readings into 0-point assignments or ungraded quizzes or surveys

No dice. It turns out nothing will appear on the To-Do list in the app unless it is a graded discussion, assignment, or quiz.

So that leaves me with only one option: make everything graded.

Grading and ungrading

No way am I grading every time they do a reading or view a lecture. Out of the question.

So the other possibility: ungrading.

I have never been a true believer in ungrading, or in the honor system. I allow it for some items, but not for others, and for those self-reported items I not infrequently discover plagiarism, dishonesty, or inferior work. The point of the system is to give feedback on this work, which I can do only up to a point.

The way to force ungraded tasks to appear on the app To-Do list is to adapt Laura Gibbs’ brilliant self-reporting quizzes and embed the material or link it in the instructions to that quiz.

So each lecture link would go to something like this:

For readings, I could adapt the trick I’ve been using to bring proximity to readings and homework assignments: use iframes to embed the reading in the instructions of the quiz. Then each reading link will go to something like this:

For six classes, needless to say, this will take a huge amount of time.

Now some people may say, “But Lisa, what happens when Canvas changes everything? It worries me that you might have to do all this work again!” As the Scottish policeman said in Casino Royale (1967), when it worried James Bond that he was a French police officer but had a Scots accent, “Aye, it worras me too.”

The Justification

As Jeff Goldblum’s character noted in The Big Chill (1983), it is impossible to go through the day without a juicy justification — it’s more important than sex.

So here I will defend a system in which I don’t believe: the honor system. Clearly, if everything that is assigned becomes a self-graded or auto-graded quiz, we’re on the honor system automatically.

I return to Stephen Downes’ idea of education: that it is the role of professors to model and demonstrate, and the role of students to practice and reflect. I think, frankly, that reflection is dead when the content and tasks are disaggregated. So what’s left is practice. The doing of history is what’s important, and I will grade it when they do it: writing assignments will always be graded by me. The rest will be (ungraded) practice, for points.

This will create an environment of trust (um….ok) and responsibility for learning (yes indeedy). [Suppressing cynicism will become my new watchword. Whiskey may become important.]

But wait, there’s more!

Possible further changes, then, after the zillions of hours making quizzes for the unquizzable, would include:

1) changing from weighted categories to points accumulation, because there’s no point in weighting anything

2) returning to Modules (which I just happily jettisoned) to force task completion

3) using Modules as the ugly home page to eliminate beautifying a Home page no one uses

4) eliminating the weekly pages I decided to keep instead of using Modules, which would entail losing all my introductory videos because it’s stupid to put a 2-minute Voki on a quiz

5) eliminating all multiple-choice quizzes because (a) I get too many student questions about them, (b) it isn’t really practicing to do them, and (c) Canvas can’t properly handle test banks anyway and I’m always having to fix them

6) vigorous use of James Jones’ brilliant due dates spreadsheet to make sure everything is dated properly

7) sorting out the remaining problems: getting students to the Information page (which is a FAQ they need), and forcing them to return to a Discussion that they think is completed after only one post

Thomas Jones Barker, Death of Captain Nolan (1855)

Ending the reading/quiz cycle

I certainly didn’t mean for the relationship to end suddenly. It has been tenuous for awhile, various arguments and complaints, but I always thought it was a communication problem. But finally I had to walk away.

In my History of England class, the textbook has been an issue for a long time. The most suitable and available academic text, by the Messrs Roberts, is two volumes, so that won’t work. The class is, unfortunately, only one semester (we have two for the history of the U.S., with a much shorter history). And realistically, even one volume is asking for trouble.

All the books I’ve used, including works by Roy Strong, Asa Briggs, and F.E. Halliday are outdated, out of print, or both. These have been replaced by volumes that sell well in the U.K., but require a previous knowledge lacking in American students: works by Jeremy Black, Simon Schama, and Simon Jenkins. I’ve been using the Penguin Illustrated History, which I love. It’s visual, I’ve written a bunch of quizzes for it, and it’s beautifully written. But students have become less enthusiastic, and it’s outdated now anyway.

Besides, it costs money. All my other classes require only my own pdf textbook, freely downloadable and printable. We are now required to indicate in the class registration system if we have a low-cost or no-cost class, so that automatically creates competition among classes as students realize they can take a class for less money. This was my last class with a textbook that had to be purchased, and it wasn’t easy for the bookstore, or students online, to find an inexpensive copy. So I unceremoniously dumped the textbook, and spend a couple of weeks this summer downloading, editing, and reformatting appropriate pages from the web. Then I wrote matching quizzes.

Canvas is not user friendly when it comes to importing, editing, and reusing quizzes, in any format. It’s test banks are obscure and hard to use. The result of my machinations was a set of single-question, matching quizzes for the new readings, and my old (now five-question) multiple-choice quizzes for my lecture. So I put one due Wednesday and the other Sunday.

Well, now the weekly course page was becoming really cluttered:

I don’t want to go all Copernican on this, but if I were a student it’s starting to look like hoops to jump through, instead of ways to explore material.

So I thought, what do I want them to get out of the reading anyway? My lectures already have a good outline of the main events of English political, social, and cultural history. And the depth is already provided by the documents we “read and discuss” (i.e. annotate in Perusall) each week. These readings are pretty intense for today’s community college students (Magna Carta, Archbishop Cranmer). So instead of adding new readings, it may be better to have them deal with these documents more.

I spent yesterday deleting all the quizzes, both lecture and reading. Instead, I’m having each student submit a “Document analysis paragraph” which uses all the names of the documents to support any single idea they have about the era we’re studying. I made a silly sample paragraph to model what I want them to do:

It’s in the form of a single-question graded survey, which will automatically apply points if they turn it in, so I can read them at my leisure and communicate individually with students who are struggling. And now students are doing, not reading and quizzing.

And thus I’ve broken the entire reading/quiz cycle in one swoop. I didn’t set out to do this — it just happened. But I’m pretty sure I’ll have no regrets.

 

Easy (for students) messaging in Canvas

Canvas’ messaging system sucks. Always has. Its new and improved version isn’t much better.

If you’re a student, and you want to email your instructor, there’s no easy way. You have to know that among the ever-proliferating global items in the far left menu, “Inbox” means the internal messaging system. You must also know already that it is for both “in” and “out” messages.

Then you need to know that this symbol is to write a message:

So you click there and it’s blank. If you have more than one class in Canvas, you must use the dropdown to select your class (which means you must have memorized what the official numbering system of your class is).

Then you must use Search to find your instructor’s name (so you must know not only who that is but how to spell it), or know to select “Teachers” to find your professors.

It’s always amazed me that students ever figure it out.

So I use the “Apps” to create my own menu item that sends students directly into a Message to me.

How to:

Go to Settings – Apps. The “Filter by name” and type in Redirect. Click on that app’s logo, then Add App.

This opens the Redirect App, so fill in the blanks.

The Name is what you want it to say in the course menu. The URL is your version of this:

https://miracosta.instructure.com/conversations?context_id=course_15859&user_id=83&user_name=Lisa%20M%20Lane

Change the server to your college’s canvas server, the course id to that particular course (it’s in its URL), and the user id and Canvas name to yours. Be sure to uncheck “Force open in new tab” and instead check “Show in Course Navigation”. Add the app, go back to Home, and you should see it in the course menu. Test it!

If you make a mistake or want to revise, use Settings – Apps – View App Configurations.

Now when a student clicks on that item in the menu, a Message opens, with your name as recipient and the course name already chosen. Not easy for us (you have to change the course id number every term) but definitely easier for them.

 

 

 

Class annotation of images

This is another post where I share how I did something, solely so I don’t forget how to do it.

Perusall is a wonderful program for annotating documents with a whole class, and I’m currently using it for all my online classes, which are located in the horror of an LMS they call Canvas. I upload a PDF, and students and I can highlight the document, with a panel popping up for discussion. When anyone clicks on the question mark, it indicates a request for responses. When anyone uses @Someone, it notifies them someone has responded. I have used it to solve the “what if they don’t do the reading?” problem, since we all kind of do the reading together.

All this is great. The system “auto-grades” (though I have to set it then check it very carefully), and pushes the grades to Canvas gradebook on my command, so I can focus on the discussion itself instead of evaluating it.

But you can’t do this with images — just upload and everyone talk about it.

Except…you can. Perusall won’t upload images natively, nor link to images directly on the web. So I downloaded an image, and saved it as a pdf in Preview, then uploaded it. Then I clicked on a section of the picture. Instead of highlighting text, Perusall put a pin. I can then ask a question or make a comment about just that portion of the image. Click the pin, and the conversation panel opens.

But the interface itself takes up a lot of the screen, which we don’t want for images. So I’m going to show students what to do about that:

If they do it, then it will look like this:

More room for the image, less clutter. I’m thinking it would be possible to put several images on a page to be discussed for that week.

What it’s doing is similar to ThingLink, which I learned about from our wonderful art historians over a decade ago. But ThingLink and similar programs, although they can be embedded into Canvas with iframes, cannot track a student’s comments, nor auto-grade them. Perusall can, which shortens my workflow so I can focus on the discussion, just as I do with annotated text.

So, annotations for images when I teach a European history course that focuses on the Humanities, and a History of Technology class that can get bogged down in text? I’m in!

 

Mass producing instructions

One of the most annoying things about teaching many sections using an LMS is that instructions must be repeated in so many places. Partly this is because people forget from one week to the next what the instructions are, so proximity of instructions to a specific task is necessary. And we all know that students do better when instructions are repeated and reminded in at least three places.

But what happens when you want to change instructions for a particular kind of assignment?

For example, I have a set of writing instructions, one each for Writing Assignments I, II, and III. When I want to change instructions for these, I have to go into Canvas and change them one at a time. Well, that’s only three sets of instructions each for five classes, and I can cut and paste.

But I realized I wanted to change instructions for a weekly assignment, my annotation discussion. That’s 16 times for each class. I wanted all of them changed to say:

Let’s add depth to our sources, and help everyone understand them. Some ideas for how to do this:

  • at least one person should highlight the thesis or main point of each document, or speculate on what it might be if it isn’t obvious
  • post a question or two where appropriate in the document (use the question mark on your comment, or use @ to get someone’s attention)
  • answer the questions of others
  • select something you found confusing or fascinating, look it up, and tell us about what you found
  • find aspects of the primary source that seem to connect to the textbook and lecture, and tell us how they connect
  • use the picture tool to add visual sources or illustrate a point

Since this is a discussion, entries which respond, enlighten, or clarify earn more points (the phrase “I agree” is specifically disallowed!).

Comments need not be long – it’s more important to annotate throughout the document (with comments in many different areas throughout the various documents), discuss with colleagues, and make connections.

So I started doing that for 16 weeks of discussion in a course, copying and pasting for each instance. When I was done, I had to do it for the next class, and suddenly I thought, wait a minute. Why not use a web page and embed it? So I made a web page with the instructions in Dreamweaver. Then I pasted this code in the Canvas assignment:

<p><iframe src=”https://lisahistory.net/pages/docdisc.htm” width=”90%” height=”360px”></iframe></p>

I can embed it anywhere, even here:

The reason to do this isn’t just to save pasting something 16 times, since I still have to paste this 16 times. But I only have to change it 16 times once, if you follow me. If my instructions change next semester (or if I decide I forgot to add something now), I just change it on the web page, and it changes everywhere. So I’m doing it for all instructions for all assignments.

*Now, to do this sort of thing exactly as I did, you need to make a web page and serve it. But you could do it in a Google Doc, and have Google serve it for you, by sharing your Doc and using the code I shared in my recent post, which looks the same but with a Google Doc URL, like this:

<iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VPObOkwoBVM5GVXgXCbdKU48Cs_ZRnS-ZJLIpZYMNJE/edit?usp=sharing?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false” width=”99%” height=”360px”></iframe>

I just don’t like it because you can’t really prevent scrolling easily.

Embedding Google Doc in Canvas with extras

Last year I began creating all my syllabuses in Google Docs and embedding them in Canvas.

It was possible then to just take the URL of your Doc, and put it into an iframe, with any extras you like. I liked to remove the ruler and navigation at the top of the Doc (rm=minimal), remove the headers (headers=false) and set the width and height (width 99%, height 1200px). It was working fine, and looked like this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/165o30E5jiFE2zUBecH6kZL3D3eTs3Dnmal8K80P8bvY/edit?rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

Well, now something (Canvas or Google) won’t let that happen, and you must follow the instructions for publishing your Doc to the web. Here are instructions from Tufts. Trouble is, that gives you the set iframe code to paste in, but you don’t have the extras. So here’s how I added them.

What Google publishing gave me was this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSpS0g-4SIpMzCvSRpukiKFPX5T5PDh9Xv9uo_8d3bNyBQ5ZodmqnYoRKjTFIaZQpqr8F9yJbnVlaj-/pub?embedded=true"></iframe>

Here are the changes I made:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSpS0g-4SIpMzCvSRpukiKFPX5T5PDh9Xv9uo_8d3bNyBQ5ZodmqnYoRKjTFIaZQpqr8F9yJbnVlaj-/pub?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

Unfortunately, this wasn’t good because “publishing” a Doc in Google freezes it somehow, and doesn’t always include the images or proper formatting. Also, I couldn’t edit the Doc from inside Canvas, which is nice to be able to do.

The better solution was to use Share rather than Publish. In the Doc, click on Share, and copy the “get shareable link” URL. Then put it into the iframe code:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MN8nGYzZvXOmOmfAPvfkAzPTm82bz1VFVpUiiI55xlc/edit?usp=sharing?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

 

 

I also provide a link, of course, for easier printing.

 

(Updated post)

 

The ed tech dream is dead

As if regular old political news weren’t bad enough, we must make connections between the behemoths of technology and the decline of enthusiasm for web-based educational technology and online learning in general. The conclusions are not inspiring.

As you know if you read my blog, I essentially gave up on web-based apps for my students a couple of years ago, and have moved all my class activity to the Canvas system or a Canvas-based LTI within that system (with the exception of one Honors blog).

As the author of Insidious Pedagogy, this has been a painful, soul-searching path leading to closing my classes. Since the beginnings (I started teaching online in 1998), I have encouraged faculty to put their pedagogy first, to find ways to force the technologies to do what you want. As an early fan of pedagogies that emphasize constructivism and connectivism, I have experimented with many formats (contract grading, connectivist learning, open blogging). If you’ve heard of Ning, Glogster, Dellicious, Blip,tv, Blabberize, Elgg, Eyejot, GoAnimate, Lingr, Mind42, MyPlick, Overstream, Plotagon, Plupper, Screenr, Slideshare, Trialmeme, and Posterous, you have some idea of what I’ve tried.

My college went over to Canvas in the wave of California Community Colleges who’d been made an offer we couldn’t refuse. As California began to standardize its online college education, mass media began to cover the concerns I’d had all along about student privacy and exposure in online environments. I no longer had any arguments to answer those who objected to students working on the open web, even as the web was closing.

So whatever else Facebook and Google have done (and none of it struck me as exceptional or unusual), they have underlined my concerns about students working openly, and undermined public confidence in living portions of our lives on the web. We were so concerned about not being sold by Learning Management Systems that we were sold by the very providers who gave us freedom.

Educators who persist in using social media for the classes are not just outliers in ed tech anymore – they are now collaborators in the dissemination and sale of student information and data. Stalwarts who object to online teaching and web-based learning can now say, “see? it isn’t safe!” Anything not in a protected, encrypted, controlled system is rightly suspect.

We’ve lost, and to me that has meant not only abandoning my own open classwork and my own research in educational trends but a return to subversion inside the system.

My pedagogical focus now is creating encouraging environments and meaningful tasks for students that take advantage of system-based automation while allowing for freedom of pursuits. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in ed tech — Canvas forces me to take my place as a nobody functionary, a foot soldier following orders, with limited creativity and continual frustration. It’s one of the worst LMSs ever created, with a “community” deluded into thinking we help improve it. When my head is flat from pounding it against Canvas walls, I try to remind myself it’s like making a movie during the Hays Code.

But doing anything else isn’t moving forward.

Roll call in Canvas

For the first week in every online class, I have an introductory discussion forum. I’ve done many things here (asked for students to talk about themselves, respond to a news story, or discuss videos on being a college student) but the point is for me to know they are actively in the class, that I don’t need to drop them as “no show”s.

The law says that signing in to an online class is not “attendance” – they need to do something. So this is what they do.

rollcall

Since it’s not something I grade, I have had it set up as a forum, and I left unchecked the Graded box. Then this morning, I realized that to contact the students who haven’t posted (it’s due yesterday, the first day of the 8-week term), I’d need to print my roster and mark it manually, or write down the names of the students who hadn’t posted.

Instead, I went back in to the forum, checked “Graded”, made it 0 points, had it graded as Complete/Incomplete, and set the deadline for last night. Then I could go to the dropdown in the Gradebook and message the students who hadn’t done it, all at once.

messagestudentswho

Of course, I also then need to use Speedgrader to mark each one Complete, since Canvas doesn’t really understand what Complete/Incomplete means, or it would mark it automatically. But still, it’s better than manually tracking students!

Canvas and the Impossible Journal

Canvas, of course, does not have x.  In this case, x is a blog or journaling or portfolio function.

Yes, I know you can LTI this, but those never work like they’re supposed to.

Now, if Canvas had real threads, I could use a threaded discussion, with each student controlling their own topic. But Canvas doesn’t have this x either. To do everyone’s journaling on one discussion would thus mean scrolling for days and days…

So, instead, I tried creating a forum for each student, to act as their own space (it’s for an Honors class, so 25 students – not too bad). Then I realized to grade them in Speed(!)Grader would mean opening them one at a time. Every week or so. Ugh.

Second attempt. Create one big forum and but have groups. Put one student per group, and have all the other students peer grade. That way, each student can post on their own, but everyone can still see the posts and comment.

The wonderful Laura Paciorek helped me test it. We became students. Posting to our own forums as our own group went fine. But when we tried to peer grade, we got “unauthorized” warnings when we clicked on anything to see it. And after this humiliation, we were returned to the “group” site, which had its own Home (and everything else) links on the menu — students would be completely lost and unable to get back to the main course page.

I considered peer grading as assignments, but assignments are one-shot deals – you can’t keep going back and adding more, making a portfolio.

I considered each student having their own Page, but you can’t grade Pages, and it’s incredibly easy to wipe out everything on a Page accidentally (been there, done that).

So reluctantly, I checked out Google (OK Google, fix Canvas). Canvas is supposed to be Google-friendly: the Canvas’ “Collaborate” function is a Google Doc, intended to be a single Doc that all students can edit. But I’ve done my research and I know that multiple students working on the same Doc can easily erase each others’ work, because Canvas isn’t Google and can’t actually enable multiple editors at once. Great idea – get a bunch of people already tentative about collaborative editing to engage that little problem!

The Collaboration difficulty was confirmed by the post that gave me my final idea (so far), from Chris Long over at the K-12 Canvas forum: use Google Docs as URL assignments.

So the plan is:

  • Have each student set up their own Google Doc as their journal. It’s one page but if they mess up, they can use the revision history to go back.
  • Assign “journal checks” (I think I’ll make the dates random) where they submit the URL as an assignment. I can use SpeedGrader to see, comment, and grade them all quickly. Laura and I tested and the worst thing that can happen is you have to open a new tab.

Now, the community/peer part. Two options here.

1) I can have these journal check assignments peer reviewed. We tried that, and it’s nice because I can see all the peer review comments in Speed Grader. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to track the peers doing the reviewing.

2) Second option is to have them just comment on each others’ Google Docs. I won’t see this in SpeedGrader, but I could manually grade them a few times during the semester as some kind of participation grade, or use a quiz and have them submit the top five comments they felt were most useful to others (Laura’s using this trick for collaborative note-sharing on a Doc, so I stole it from here).

I’ll keep working on this, but, as Laura pointed out, it’s bizarre to go to all this trouble. Canvas should have a blogging/journaling feature. Canvas should have an option for real threaded discussion. Canvas should have . . .oh, never mind.

UPDATE: 

Laura discovered ePortfolios, which I hadn’t seen because it isn’t in the Canvas course – it resides in the user’s Profile, in the level above the course (like the Inbox). While not as simple as Google, it has its own URL and doesn’t need a separate login.

My use of it would be similar, except that students cannot comment inside each others’ ePortfolio. So I would use a Discussion to ask for a report, and each student would need to post the URL for their portfolio for each check. It would then be an extra click in Speedgrader to grade each one, and I would have to grade students’ own portfolio and their comments on others’ portfolios together, instead of separately.

Tutorials like this one would be needed. And, as with all things Canvas, very specific instructions would need to be given, to dumb down everything as effectively as possible. But ePortfolio allows images and (some) embeddings, and despite its hierarchy (Portfolio – Section – Page) might still work. Thanks, Laura!